My first job, if you do not count paper rounds, babysitting or doing the shopping for neighbours, was in the Loading Bay at the railway wagon works known to everyone for miles around as Shildon Shops.
Do I remember that first day as if it were yesterday? Have I remained on close terms with the people I worked with? Does the actual date I started the job spring readily to mind? Not, I am sorry to say, so much as a bit of it.
Reliable memories of what I did each day, how much I was paid or who I met - all the important details of anyone's entrance into the world of work - have long since vanished.
How I envy those people who can delve into their minds and extract precise figures for pocket money, the size of their first pay packets and what they spent on earliest major purchases - train set, bike, car, whatever. My memory, excellent though it is in respects that sometimes surprise me, is nevertheless highly selective.
The figure of £1.50, or thirty bob as I'd have called it then, does suggest itself as the weekly reward from one of the paper rounds. I know my first property purchase was a flat in Greater London for about £9,000 and I even remember raising the 10 per cent deposit by selling a freshly purchased Vauxhall Viva, the only car I have ever owned from new. It had only a thousand or so miles on the clock, though if you looked carefully you could just about make out the imperfections of bodywork repairs that sadly became necessary after some clot ran into me as I drove it home from the showroom.
At an early Salut! North posting, I also took a stab at the price of cod and chips from Robinson's fish shop at the top of Diamond Street. But I would not be especially surprised to hear that the passing of years had distorted even that recollection.
And I certainly could not put an accurate figure on my first salary even if life depended on it. Nor, indeed, do I recall with anything approaching conviction how much I earned when I moved to subsequent jobs. There are cluttered files in which I may have stored some documentary evidence, but they are in the basement of my home. If such paperwork does exist, I have not set eyes on it for years and my home, incoveniently, is thousands of miles from here in France.
What I do clearly recall is one logical extension of my wasted school years. I had to rely on my dad to have a word in the right place to get me any job at all when I finally completed my full-time education, clutching one fairly worthless certificate for six Northern Counties subjects and two more recording my dismal haul of three GCEs.
Labour was very much a boss's market in those days; no one seemed to recognise my Poetry Reading, Sunday School Attendance or Breast Stroke certificates as suitable qualifications for the humblest employment.
But what my father lacked in money, he more than made up for in local contacts. This was scarcely surprising, since he was a well-known figure around town as a result of his tireless involvement in workingmen's clubs and amateur football.
And as I pondered the sort of career I could expect all that schooling to bring me - full-time paper boy? apprentice to Mr Tanner-a-bag, the peanut seller at Roker Park? - he came up with the introduction that secured me a junior clerical post at the Wagon Works.
I am sure we still had the works hooter in those days, the droning siren that summoned the men of the town to their shifts. I am less sure of whether it coincided with office starting times, though something tells me it did not. No matter, the daily routines of everyone in Shildon, from railway workers to schoolchildren and housewives, were dictated to some extent by that hooter.
If I really push the memory, I come up with a guess of about £4 or £5 a week as my likely starting salary. Of this, about £1.50 or £2 would have gone straight to my mum for board, still leaving a reasonable amount, or so it seemed then, for my cigarettes, beer, papers, football...........and record player.
The last bit, of course, is stretching the point a little. There is no possibility that my income would have enabled me to buy a record player outright. But I was able, on the strength of my first pay packet (containing not a payslip or a cheque but real money), march straight into Foskett's at the top of Main Street and buy one on credit.
It took only a few weeks to pay off the total, after which Mrs Foskett, a well-spoken and very proper lady whose words carried authority, made my mum's day by telling her how conscientiously her son, whose feckless way were all too familiar, had kept up the payments.
I will need to look up the hits of the era before I can say what were probably my first record purchases for this new acquisition; we are talking about 1965 which means that I would already have bought a couple of LPs - greatest hits compilation by Everly Brothers and the Shadows, and the Beatles' first album - and singles by Fats Domino, the Crystals and Elvis Presley, and played them on my big sister's old mono. Unless she writes in to correct that, too.
Did I enjoy being a worker? Well, without remembering even the essentials of what my day entailed, I do know that I found my duties tedious, as clerical jobs tend to be. I also recall being transferred to New Construction and spending a little time in the personnel office, where I was able to take furtive little looks at the personal files and see how much the different men - from the lordly toolmakers through fitters and welders down to the labourers - made.
The great perk of working for the railways was the free or cut-price travel on BR. After a certain spell in your post, you became entitled to so many free passes a year and the coveted privilege tickets, which brought terrific savings on all journeys near and far.
I stayed in the job for all of about there or four months; accordingly, I never received my "priv ticket" and acquired just one free pass, which I asked to be issued as a return ticket to London. Even this was demanded back by the personnel officer in my very last week so that she could stamp it to make my leaving day its last date of valid use. The consequence of her heavy-handed adherence to the letter of the rulebook was that my fareless journey was not made.
So what possessed me to leave the job, to the disbelief and utter dismay of my parents? The lure of the Smoke. I had set my heart on heading for London with my pal Len. He was in a similarly drab clerical job and was sufficiently bored to consider the escapade worth a lark, though in reality not very much more than a lark; he did not quite share my enthusiasm for treating it an opportunity to break free break for ever small-town northern England.
The plan, or at any rate my plan, was to become a pop music journalist. There wasn't the slightest reason to suppose that any of the pop papers - Melody Maker, Disc and Music Echo or the NME - would employ me even as a messenger, but I was seduced by the fantasy that all would fall into place once I was left the train at Kings Cross.
It was a ridiculously ill-considered project. Neither of us had a job or flat to go to. We had little money to tide us over. And what is more, Len's parents knew nothing of what we had in mind until my mum "bumped into" his on the day we were supposed to travel, in his case without having said a word at home, and exclaimed: "Isn't it a shock about the boys?"
Len's no-nonsense dad was not the sort of man to be defied by a daft teenage son, so when he announced that his lad was going nowhere, that was prett much the end of the matter. I had no stomach for trying it on my own and may even have come to the belated realisation that it had been a madcap venture in the first place.
So began three of the happiest months of my teenage years. Three months when I went without the dignity of labour and had a grand time on the dole.............
* Picture (courtesy of Ken from the Shildon Net forum): top of Main Street, Shildon. Foskett's, some years later of course, would have been to the left. It subsequently became a superb Italian restaurant, sadly now closed as a result of the owner's death